Today marks the passing of a legend in the world of professional wrestling as well as professional football. Ernie “The Big Cat” Ladd passed away today after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 68.
Ladd, a Texas native, played college football for Grambling before having an eight-year career in the American Football League during the 60′s. He was drafted by the AFL’s San Diego Chargers with their 15th pick in the 1961 draft. He joined the Kansas City team in 1967 playing with Buck Buchanan, a former Grambling teammate where they formed what was probably the biggest defensive tackle combination at that time. Ladd being 6’9″ and 315 pounds while Buchanan was 6’7″ and weighed 275 pounds. He earned the nickname “Big Cat” for his unbelievably quick reflexes, agility and speed. During his AFL career he played on two different Championship teams (S.D. Chargers & K.C. Chiefs).
Ernie Ladd began his wrestling career in 1961 while still in the AFL playing pro football in the winter, and wrestling during the off-season summer months. Ladd soon became a huge draw in the Los Angeles area. In the 1970′s Ladd became one of wrestling’s most hated heels. He would often use his taped thumb as a weapon, which Ladd would claim was from an old football injury. Ladd’s giant boot to the face was an exciting, unique move at the time. On the mic he was arrogant, abrasive and quite often funny. He could draw heat with or without words, but his interviews were most often classic and should be shown to current up-and-coming wrestlers as an educational tool. I saw Ladd wrestle on TV in the 70′s in the Mid-South territory promoted by Bill Watts. I fondly remember his feuds with the Junkyard Dog during that time.
From all that I have read by his fellow pro football players and professional wrestlers (Percy Pringle’s blog and the Cauliflower Alley Club have tributes), Ernie Ladd was a beloved member of the both communities. He was inducted into the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame in 1981; the WCW Hall of Fame in 1994; the WWE Hall of Fame in 1995; the Breitbard Hall of Fame (San Diego Hall of Champions) in 2005; and also the AFL Hall of Fame. The man was impressive as a football player and as a wrestler. He will be missed. I offer my sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Ernie “The Big Cat” Ladd.
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